Saturday, May 21, 2005

 

May 21th, 1970

Bryce Florie Born


Bryce Florie is the man who holds the unfortunate distinction of being the man who had the single scariest thing to ever take place on a baseball field while I was watching. A reliever for most of his career, Florie was a workmanlike journeyman who had ended up on the Red Sox in the 2000 season. On September 8th, Florie was pitching against the Yankees at Fenway Park. Florie was in the ninth with the Sox already down 4-0. With two outs, the Yankees sent September call-up Ryan Thompson to the plate. Thompson turned on an inside pitch and lined it back to the mound, where it smashed against Florie's face. The impact was so hard that the ball actually bounced towards third baseman Lou Merloni and he threw out Thompson.

Florie, however, had crumpled on the mound. When the trainer ran out and had Florie take his hands away from his face, it was clear major damage had been done. The ball had fractured Florie's cheekbone, but more seriously shattered the orbital socket. If you take your left index finger and put it on the left side of the bridge of your nose and then move it counterclockwise you can feel the orbital socket, surrounding the eye. Obviously, it is a major thing. Florie also suffered damage to his retina, surgery was required to prevent him from going blind.

Florie recovered sufficiently to pitch a few innings for the Sox in 2001, but was released and never pitched in the Majors after that. However, sitting at home and watching it on TV, it was a ghastly sight and one that I've still not forgotten, much as I wish I could.


Friday, May 20, 2005

 

May 20th, 1920

Police Raid Wrigley Field

Ok, that's a bit melodramatic. The Chicago police were conducting an undercover sting in the bleachers. Dressed as soldiers and farmers, they launched their raid and arrested two dozen fans for gambling on the game, a game won by the visiting Phils on a 6-0 shutout by Grover Cleveland Alexander. Given the environment in 1920, with rumors of the Black Sox scandal swirling and the recently installed Judge Landis this was one of many steps baseball was taking to crack down on gambling. It also makes for a relatively entertaining visual, dozens of Chicago police officers in costume leaping out during the 7th inning stretch or something to arrest gamblers in the bleachers. I imagine this was a pretty nice good gig to be assigned to: dress up, watch a ballgame for a few innings and then bust some gamblers. Good times.

Something that strikes me as interesting having recently returned from the
UK is the differences in gambling culture between the two as it pertains to sport. I had been watching some footy (which is to say, soccer), so I knew enough to know that the attitude was different, one team in English soccer's highest league is sponsored by an online casino. When I actually went to a match however, I was shocked. At Upton Park, Ladbrokes (one of the big betting companies) not only has its signage all over the pitch, they also have betting parlors set-up inside the hallways of the stadium so you can make a bet on who is going to win, what the score will be, who will score first (team and player) or some combination thereof. The booths then close during the game, only to re-open at halftime for bets to be made on readjusted odds and then re-opened again at the end of the match so that winners could collect their winnings.

Compared to Major League Baseball, which is reluctant to put a team in Las Vegas because of the presence of casinos in the same city, Manchester United--one of the world's most famous and successful clubs--are in talks to attach a casino to their stadium. But is Major League Baseball living in the past of the Black Sox or is the Premiership playing see-no-evil with a problem? Well, Pete Rose would seem to indicate that MLB can't be too careful, as even modern players are susceptible to gambling but nothing like that has come out in English football, although rumors sometimes circulate. I don't know the answer to the question, but the systems are quite different and yet both work. Perhaps the lesson that can really be drawn is one already known, different strokes for different folks.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

 

May 19th, 1996

John Berardino Dies

There are lots of baseball players who appear in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), but they appear nearly entirely as themselves, in cameo appearances in movies and TV shows or in season and playoff summary movies. John Berardino however, is one of the few to have had a respectable Major League career and then moved onto a respectable career as an actor. Berardino played as a regular for the St. Louis Browns for a few years in the 30s and 40s and after serving during the Second World War returned to the Majors in 1946 and had one more year as a regular. He then bounced around serving as a utility infielder, hailed as the "One Man Infield" based on his versatility and competency around the diamond.

After his career, Berardino dropped one of the R's from his name, became John Beradino and started his acting career. He appeared uncredited in North by Northwest but his greatest acting fame came from a greater than thirty year stretch as Dr. Steve Hardy on
General Hospital. Beradino was a member of the original cast and played the role through until his death in 1996. I was never much of a soap guy but I imagine that Beradino is significantly more famous for his thirty three years at Port Charles than he was for his time on the diamond.

It is interesting that John Berardino probably spent most of his youth working to become a Major League ballplayer. Despite the years of work, it was as John Beradino the actor instead of John Berardino the ballplayer that he found the most success. I guess you never know where success will come from.



Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

May 18th, 1990

Todd Hundley Debuts


Son of longtime Cubs' catcher Randy "Rebel" Hundley, Todd was a catcher like his Dad, but could hit, which his Dad couldn't. However, when Todd went down with arm surgery, the Mets acquired arguably the greatest catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza. With Piazza not moving, and John Olerud hitting .350, the Mets had to find a non-C, non-1B place for their former hitting star. They decided upon left field, and thus began a thirty-four game adventure.

Todd Hundley simply could not play left field. I don't mean that in the way Greg Luzinski couldn’t play left field, but in the way that the kid on your High School baseball team, the one only got promoted to Varsity because he was a senior couldn't play left field. To Hundley's credit, it wasn't that he didn't try, he just couldn't do it. Hundley played thirty-games, and managed a .898 fielding percentage. Fielding percent is a bad stat, but it paints a pretty good picture idea of Hundley here, out of every one hundred balls hit his way, he would have botched eleven of them. For the sake of contrast, the league fielding percentage in left field was .975. More than that, Hundley simply looked awful, even on the plays he made. His routes suggested he was playing left field after being let off the Tilt-a-Whirl. I very clearly remember a play on a fairly routine fly ball, on which Hundley broke in, then out, then spun around 360 degrees and watched the ball land 5 feet behind him. It was painful to watch. All said, the statistic that best expresses Hundley's troubles is a simple one:

Todd Hundley, LF, 1998: 5 Errors, 34 Games
Mets, LF, 2004: 5 Errors, 162 Games

Hundley was traded to Dodgers after the season, and never, surprise surprise, took the field as anything but a catcher again.



Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

May 17th, 1979

Phillies Play at Cubs


One of the things I do at every game I attend is keep score. I even have a scorebook that I've taken to every game I've been to and recorded since the end of the 2002 season, which includes a couple of notable ones that I might at some point blog about. I'm pretty easy when it comes to keeping score, I like to make sure I get things right, but I'm not fanatical, I don't keep balls and strikes, for instance. My pet peeve when it comes to scorekeeping (excluding when I write in the wrong thing, switching to pen was bad idea in this regard) is when a team bats around, forcing me to move over into the next column and the drawing a little box to indicate that it isn't in fact the next inning, but rather, still the previous one. (I get especially worked up when a team makes it last out right after batting around.)

This Cubs-Phillies game then, would have been a nightmare for me to score, and not just because I wasn't even a glint in my mother's eye in 1979. Although it went just ten innings, the final score was--you might want to sit down here--Phillies 23, Cubs 22. I'm not going to do a play-by-play, we'd be here all night, but I will rattle off some highlights. The Phils went up 7-0 in the top of the first, as Cubs starter Dennis Lamp recorded just one out. Evidently distracted by dreams of a blowout, the Phils watched their starter Randy Lerch record just one out and the Cubs came back to the tune of six runs. Both teams batted around in the first, and both touched my particular nerve by having the bat-around man (in this case, the leadoff hitters) make the final out of the inning. In the third, the Phillies batted around again, scoring eight runs, and putting them up
15-6 after three innings. The Phils added more and entered the Cubs half of the fifth leading 21-9. However, in that fifth the Cubs batted around--steam would have been coming out my ears at this point--and scored seven runs, making it 21-16. The Cubs would tie the game in the eighth, but the Phillies scored one in the tenth to take the victory.

The hitting star of the game was probably Mike Schmidt, who went 2-for-4 with 4 walks. Both of Schmidt's hits were home runs, and he drove in four runs while scoring three himself. Bill Buckner went 4-for-7, including a fifth innings grand slam which accounted for four of his seven RBIs, along with two runs scored. Every pitcher except the Cubs' Ray Burris and Phils' Rawly Eastwick gave up at least a run, while Tug McGraw had probably the worst appearance of his career, allowing seven runs (four earned) in just two-thirds of an inning. Eastwick was the pitching star of the game, going two full scoreless innings, more than the rest of the pitchers combined.

A game like this is interesting to look back on, and must've been quite a trip to watch. But I'm sure glad I didn't have to keep score.



Monday, May 16, 2005

 

May 16th, 1919

Stubby Overmire Born


Frank Overmire's nickname comes from his height. He is traditionally listed at 5'7" although there are suggestions he was as short as 5'2" which would definitely explain it. He was a change-up artist who is the answer to a rather obscure trivia question: Who is the second most famous pitcher to come out of Western Michigan University? (They're the Broncos, if you're curious.) The most famous pitcher to ever pitch for WMU is Jim Bouton, and while he's less famous for his pitching than his writing, it’s safe to say he's more famous than all the other Broncos put together, including the only man from WMU to play in the Majors last season, John Vander Wal.

Overmire was actually a pretty good pitcher in his own right for a couple of years, serving as a reliever for the World Champion Tigers in 1945 and accumulating four saves, which amazingly was good enough for third in the league. Overmire's change-up and exceptional control (he was thrice among the league leaders in BB/9) served him well, and although he had a terrible 1949 (1-3, 9.87) which earned him a trip to the St. Louis Browns, he recovered with his best year ever in 1950. Although he went just 9-12 for an awful 58-96 team, Overmire's 4.19 ERA was good for 118 ERA+, ninth in the league as he appeared in thirty-one games, starting nineteen of them. A midseason trade to the Yankees in 1951 saw him pitch ineffectively and he saw no action in the Yanks' victory over the Giants in the World Series, and rejoined the Browns in 1952, the last year of his career.

After his career he managed in the Tigers' minor league system and died in 1977 at the age of fifty-eight in
Florida.



Sunday, May 15, 2005

 

May 15th, 1941

Joe DiMaggio gets hit


In and of itself, Joe DiMaggio getting a hit is not, of course, news. DiMaggio would get a hit 192 additional times in 1941 (the best season of his rightly distinguished career) and would get another 2,213 hits for his career, not to mention 54 in the playoffs. The reason today's hit was notable is because it would start DiMaggio's fifty-six game hitting streak. The hitting streak is much discussed, especially whenever someone gets close as a few--Pete Rose, Luis Castillo--have to varying degrees. I tried to think of a new way to look at the streak, something to demonstrate it beyond the (amazing) fact that he went two months getting a hit every game. I finally settled on expressing it as a percentage of the games played. For example, Luis Castillo had his thirty-five game hitting streak in 2002. He played 146 games that season, meaning he had his hitting streak making up just less than a quarter of his season, which is pretty good. In contrast, DiMaggio only played 139 games in 1941, meaning his hitting streak made up over forty percent of his season. That's impressive.

Some Site News:

I apologize for the relative brevity of the entries these past few days. I am getting ready to move back to
New York after a year in London and the combination of packing, saying my goodbyes along with the technical issues I've been having has been keeping me from producing my sometimes Anthony Trollope-like entries. I'm back in New York tomorrow, and hope to return to form.


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